Sharon Walls

: TRANSFORM A LIFETIME.

Kiwi operating theatre nurses discuss their professional experiences onboard the Mercy Ship in Senegal, West Africa.

Read The Dissector, NZNO June 2020

The Dissector is the official journal of the Perioperative Nurses College of the New Zealand Nurses Organisation, produced quarterly (March, June, September & December) by Advantage Publishing Limited.

Posted with permission

Sharon Walls

Zackaria’s story

After Zackaria was born, his mother Binta began seeing signs that he was suffering from cataracts — a condition that her eldest child Elimane had also experienced.

“I knew about Zackaria’s eyes when he was still very young, as I had the same experience with my firstborn,” Binta said. “Elimane had an operation, but his surgery was not successful. I wept when I saw that my new baby was looking and moving in the same way.”

Although Binta knew she had no control over her children’s poor eyesight, the fact that both her boys had been born with cataracts caused her overwhelming stress, which developed into illness. With Binta overcome with grief, her mother offered to step in to take the two boys to live with her.

As Zackaria grew up, he was aware that he could not see like other children, but still wanted to live a full life. He wanted to play with other kids and was even ambitious enough to try and kick a football. His teacher encouraged his playful personality so Zackaria would not dwell on his disability. The young boy would sometimes come home sporting scratches and bruises from his ventures, but even those could not dampen his inquisitive nature and zest for life.

One day, while Binta was visiting her children, the family heard of the Africa Mercy’s pending arrival on a local television channel. Elimane asked his mother if he and Zackaria could go to the hospital in hopes of finding healing.

“There are some people coming for free surgeries for the eyes,” he said.

Binta quickly took her boys to where the patients were being selected and introduced the two to the volunteers screening potential patients. Unfortunately, after an in-depth screening, it was discovered that Elimane could not be operated on — he had been blind for too long, and the chances of a second surgery being successful were very slim.

However, young Zackaria’s case was more hopeful! He was given a date on which he would be admitted to the hospital ship, and Binta was elated.

“The family prayed for the ship to be blessed and that the operation would be successful,” she said.

Zackaria was incredibly excited about having, as he terms it, the “things in his eyes” removed. He was in a great hurry to see and began counting down the days to his surgery. Every day he would come and ask his mother, how many more days it was.

When they were admitted to the hospital onboard the Africa Mercy, Binta knew that his surgery was becoming a reality. While she was afraid, she also grew more confident, saying, “It was hard, but I put things in God’s hands.”

In a blink of an eye, his operation was over. Zackaria was discharged the day after surgery and asked to come back a week later for a checkup and some eye tests. Six weeks post-op and Zackaria was back for a final checkup and to join the “Celebration of Sight” ceremony held on the dock. He was given some glasses to help him focus, and was soon joining in the celebrations!

“Now Zackaria can see better, he hardly stays still and is constantly moving about,” Binta said. “I am so happy. I never thought that Zackaria would have this opportunity for surgery. Even I was suffering from something that Mercy Ships has healed!”

Binta says that one day she hopes her son decides to pursue a career as a surgeon saying, “He could help people as people have helped him.”

As for Zackaria, his main ambition right now is to play outside and to build things. He’ll be able to attend school soon, and then a whole new chapter of his life will begin — one that is brighter than ever!

 

Sharon Walls

Our world looks very different today than it did this time last year. We are aware, now more than ever, of the healthcare fragility that many nations face.

When Whangamata couple Sinclair and Kathy Carter learned they had the skills needed to help provide essential surgery for people in West Africa, they were surprised – because Sinclair is a seafarer.

Sinclair Carter’s life at sea has run the gambit. From a family of seafarers going back two generations, the Chief Engineer began as an apprentice and sailed the across the Pacific, through Asia and Europe – but a hospital ship in Africa was something new entirely.

‘The industry has been good to me,’ explains Sinclair. ‘I saw there was a need. I had a desire to pass on knowledge and experience.’ That need was a volunteer opportunity aboard the 16,000 tonne Mercy Ship, a transportable platform for a world class surgical hospital dedicated to providing essential services for Africa’s poorest people.

 

Kathy’s experience as a project manager with a background in intensive care nursing joined the dots and in February the couple signed up for a three-month tour of duty volunteering with Mercy Ships in Senegal, West Africa. ‘We both decided that we wanted to do something which gave back to people in a more meaningful way, reflects Kathy. ‘We are the support service and keep things running so that others can treat those in need,’ adds Sinclair. ‘We provide the service platform to run the ship.’

Kathy Carter, Deck and Engineering Administrator, recording readings from the engine control room.

 

With Kathy as the deck administrator and Sinclair as second engineer, the couple’s volunteer service in the Africa Mercy technical team proved to be both compelling and vital. When the global COVID-19 outbreak occurred a month after their arrival, Mercy Ships shortened the 10-month field service in Senegal to eight months out of concern for the health and wellbeing of both patients and crew. The couple not only took the changed circumstances in their stride, they extended their original three-month tour-of-duty to six; until August.

‘I am blessed to have my wife with me during this time. We have kept each other grounded and philosophical about the events that have occurred,’ reflects Sinclair. ‘We have been fortunate to have our community ‘bubble’ here on the ship so we haven’t felt like we’re missing out on much. Perhaps being older makes us more accepting of the ‘restrictions’ being placed on us due to COVID19, however we just feel we are in the safest place right at the moment. We hope we can serve as role models to some of the younger crew.’

‘The engineering team are fantastic and working with them has been the real highlight of my time on Mercy Ships, says. Sinclair. ‘They are from a range of countries; Ghana, Sierra Leone, Benin, Cameroon, USA, Madagascar, Japan, UK, Denmark, Switzerland. Everybody is here because they want to be here. A whole bunch of people who have chosen to be here.’ The Carters will serve the remainder of their tour-of-duty on board the Mercy Ship docked in the Canary Islands in their COVID-19 free bubble of the remaining 130, primarily technical, crew members.

‘It will be difficult to return to the normal commercial world,’ reflects Sinclair.  ‘I think Mercy Ships has changed my attitude toward other people, helped me become more open, less judgemental.  I have become more conscious of how privileged and entitled we are in the Western world.’

For many people living in sub-Saharan Africa, the healthcare landscape is dire, with many lacking access to basic medical and surgical care. This is why Mercy Ships exists—to strengthen healthcare systems through training and mentoring while reducing the strain on those systems through free, life-changing surgery. And that is why huge-hearted people like Sinclair volunteer their technical skills; because ships of mercy couldn’t float without them.

Currently the charity’s emphasis is remotely providing e-Learning, specific healthcare courses and logistical support for local colleagues in the front line of the fight against COVID in West Africa, and the supply of PPE. However, Mercy Ships needs volunteers to power the hospital ships as they prepare to return to Africa in early 2021 to continue strengthening local healthcare systems for the future alongside the provision of essential surgery for the present.

There are volunteer opportunities for professional mariners who want to have their families at sea with them, who want to see something different and be part of the Mercy Ships mission of providing access to safe, timely healthcare.

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

Sharon Walls

‘Kids seem to have a natural way to break down social barriers,’ shares Karin, a primary teacher from Auckland on board the Mercy Ship.

‘The boys in my class love playing soccer, cards and other games. Sometimes the students go with their parents to visit the patients in the wards in the evenings. Interacting with patients (adults and kids) sometimes came naturally to my students, other times it took more courage. I remember a few special occasions when we would stop halfway down the hall before heading upstairs, and just pray for courage to step out of our comfort zones.’

‘One of the unique parts of being a teacher for the crew children is the opportunity to interact with the patients like Mouhamed, alongside our students. Weekly, our class visited patients during their free time on deck 7.’

Karin describes teaching the crew’s children on board the Mercy Ship as, ‘A blend of some of my life’s pipe dreams; working in a cross-cultural context, teaching and living in community.  I found the prospect both hilarious and too good to pass up’.

Imagine a small town where the main industry is a surgical hospital. There’s a post office, a bank, a corner store, a café – and of course a school. The children of long-term crew members attend the Mercy Ships Academy, an accredited international Christian school catering for students from preschool to high school graduation.

The benefits of living with people from more than 40 nations with a wide range of skills and experience is already evident for Karin.  ‘Once my class was invited to view the fire drill by the emergency teams. We ‘set the fire’ in the laundry room, alerted the bridge, watched as the fire crew came in to ‘extinguish the fire’ and haul out the ‘body’. We observed the Emergency Medical Team perform CPR on the mannequin as well as use the defibrillators – all a few days after learning about the circulatory and respiratory systems in science.

‘Hearing the students relate their own experiences with Mercy Ships has been inspiring. I have heard some of the parents share their stories; decisions to sell houses, leave families, friends and jobs to take the risk and join this crazy experience called Mercy Ships. But hearing the students’ process their own journeys is something else. I’ve listened as they’ve started to recognise the courage their parents mustered to make the decision to join, and listened as the children process the reasons for making this decision. It’s a truly unique position to be in.’

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships

Sharon Walls

IN WEST AND CENTRAL AFRICA IN CONTRAVIRUS FIGHT.

Dr Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, Director-General, Ghana Health Services, took delivery on June 18 of a donation of PPE designated for the nation of Ghana today by Mercy Ships President Rosa Whitaker on behalf of the charity to support the national battle with coronavirus.

“We applaud Ghana’s fight against this virus,” stated Whitaker. “Mercy Ships is committed to build on the collaboration between NGOs, the private sector and the public sector and encourages others to do the same,” she added.

“Although many have predicted that the pandemic is inevitable within Africa and that this continent will soon become the epicentre of the new outbreak, we stand with our African partners at this crucial time. It is our hope and belief that nations can get ahead of this curve and hold back the relentless effects that this pandemic could have on our formal and informal economies and people,” stated Whitaker.

“For more than 30 years, Mercy Ships has stood shoulder to shoulder with our African partners to address the global surgery crisis. Even though borders are closed, and we cannot physically be present right now, Mercy Ships continues to conduct online medical capacity training and support ongoing projects with partners on the ground. We are committed for our ship to return to help strengthen healthcare systems within West and Central Africa, as soon as the global situation allows,” said Whitaker.

Mercy Ships has donated Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to eight partner nations within West and Central Africa: Benin, Congo, Ghana, Liberia, Madagascar, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo totalling 80,800 items and 20 infrared thermometers and will donate PPE to an additional three countries Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Guinea.

The donation to Ghana includes 9000 (PPE) items consisting of 1,500 nursing caps, 1,500 medical protective glasses, 1,500 masks FFP2, 1,500 pairs of gloves, 1,500 surgical gowns, 1,500 pairs of shoe covers and five Infrared Thermometers (IT).

The people of Ghana hold a warm place in the hearts of all Mercy Ships crew, volunteers, and international staff said Whitaker. Mercy Ships has been involved with Ghana since 1991 and a Mercy Ship has docked four times in Ghana. (1) The Africa Mercy has 85 long/short term crew from Africa, 10 of whom are Ghanaians in roles ranging from engineering to HR.

The donation was made in the presence of Dr Juliette Tuakli and Lucy Quist, Mercy Ships International Board Members who reside in Ghana.

(1) Mercy Ships field services to Ghana: (1991, 1994-1995, 2006-2007 and 2011-2012).

Sharon Walls


VIDEO: Mouhamed’s father spent all his money on an operation to remove the tumour from his son’s face, but soon after surgery the tumour returned and continued to grow. He lost all hope that Mouhamed would ever be healed – until he heard on the radio that mercy was sailing into town.

Help change despair to hope for kids like Mouhamed today by making a donation to provide surgery with Mercy Ships

Sharon Walls

Day of the Seafarer 

Seafarers are key workers who keep our ships operational and use their skills to deliver humanitarian development and transform thousands of lives each year. On International Day of the Seafarer, we honour seafarers everywhere and highlight four of our incredible marine volunteers who power our ships. 

Mercy Ships floating hospital, the Africa Mercy, is the largest charity-run hospital ship in the world.

RODRIGO

Rodrigo Silva is our Chief Officer. Originally from Brazil, Rodrigo oversees the deck’s maintenance, cargo loading operations, treatment of freshwater, and sailing. He also leads the fire teams, amongst many other things.

“One of the highlights of volunteering with Mercy Ships is that I can do what I know how to do and have my family with me. One of the cornerstones of seafaring life is that we are away and missing the things that are happening back home with the kids, with schooling, and with your spouse. Being onboard with Mercy Ships is different; you’re able to be together. So you can work and, at the end of the day, walk back to your cabin and see your family. It’s unbelievably good.”

When asked if he would recommend working at Mercy Ships to other seafarers, Rodrigo, without hesitation, said, “I would encourage seafarers out there to come. You can expect an inviting work environment and the satisfaction of seeing your work making a real difference in the lives of the patients we serve.”

JOE

Joe Biney is from Ghana and has been volunteering with Mercy Ships since 1991. He volunteers onboard with his family. Joe is currently our Third Engineer and he and his team of engineers power the Africa Mercy from the Engine Room. Seafarers like Joe play a major part in delivering Mercy Ships medical capacity building and free surgery programmes. Without the generators in the Engine Room, there would be no lighting for the hospital, no power for the galley, and no air conditioning keeping the ship cool.

“With Mercy Ships, you are not alone. You have support. On a commercial ship, you may be alone, but onboard with Mercy Ships, people are standing with you. These people become your brothers and sisters, they become your friends. In the Engine Room, we work as a team. We have one goal that we are all working to achieve—to make sure people get help… It is a privilege and it is an opportunity and it is an honour to serve with Mercy Ships.”

 

TAYLOR

“This is where I am supposed to be. There is no question about that.”

Captain Taylor Perez was introduced to Mercy Ships in 1984 when his ship stopped in Hawaii to refuel on its way from the States to Asia. Our previous ship, the Anastasis, was docked nearby and some of the crew invited him onboard for lunch.

“I was absolutely stunned by the quality of the crew and atmosphere onboard,” he said. “They were very impressive, and it was a very professional organisation.”

After that meeting, Perez began to volunteer with Mercy Ships during his time off. Since then, he has captained every single one of the Mercy Ships fleet at one time or another and is now Captain of the current flagship, the Africa Mercy.

“The ship is the hospital. You can’t have the hospital without the ship. The doctors and nurses, who do such an amazing job, could not do it without the ship. The ship can’t operate without its mariners.

We don’t just need doctors and nurses, we need Deck Officers, Engine Ratings, ABs, Motormen, Engineers as well as carpenters, electricians and other  professionals who can take the time to see something different and be part of something with a big impact.”

RUBEN

Ruben Galama worked as a mechanical engineer in The Netherlands, prior to joining the Mercy Ships Engineering Department. He is currently working as an HVAC technician within the hotel engineering department.

“I originally signed up for one year and that was three and a half years ago! I don’t have any medical skills, but I do have the skills to help keep the ship operational and the hospital running so patients can get the treatment they need. Everyone onboard is a cog in the overall system and contributes towards the Africa Mercy achieving her goals of bringing hope and healing. Even though we are not directly involved with the patients, we are all a part of the team that makes this happen. It’s rewarding to be able to use my skills to make a difference.”

 

Our world looks very different today than it did this time last year. We are aware, now more than ever, of the healthcare fragility that many nations face. For many people living in sub-Saharan Africa, the healthcare landscape is even more dire, with many lacking access to basic medical and surgical care. This is why Mercy Ships exists—to strengthen healthcare systems through training and mentoring whilst reducing the strain on those systems through free, life-changing surgery. 

WOMEN IN STEM, Martina, Nic, Rahel and Veera

 

 

 

Mercy Ships needs volunteers like you to power our ships as we prepare to return to Africa to help rebuild and strengthen healthcare systems. We need professional mariners who want to see something different and be part of the Mercy Ships mission of providing access to safe, timely healthcare.

Find out more and take the first steps on your journey to Africa with Mercy Ships. 

Sharon Walls

love mercy, walk humbly. Mercy Ships CEO Tom Stogner shares his heart;

Standing against racism.

“And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God”. Micah 6:8

The past few weeks have reminded us of the issues of racism and we are saddened by the tragic and senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others around the world. Mercy Ships is an organization comprised of people from over 40 countries, and we value the rich cultures that make up our crew and staff who serve the most vulnerable people in Africa, caring for those we serve, strengthening healthcare systems, and building relationships together.

The core values of Mercy Ships are: Love God, Love and serve others, Be people of integrity and Be people of excellence in all we say and do. As an organization we individually and corporately ascribe to follow these core values.  However, we must proactively also affirm and join the world in saying that black lives matter. To do anything less would be an injustice to those we work alongside and to those we lovingly serve.

Silence is never the solution, and Mercy Ships refuses to neglect our responsibility. We choose to stand firm against racism. This is an injustice that impacts our culture each and every day, and our hearts are with those of you who have been deeply affected by these recent events. I am committed to do all that we can in Mercy Ships to eradicate racism.

As an organization, we follow the 2000-year-old model of Jesus, providing hope and healing to the world’ s forgotten poor.  Please join me in ensuring that we hold tightly to this calling each and every day, committing to treat each individual with the same love and compassion as Jesus did. All of us should wholeheartedly lean into the conversations and be committed to look outwardly and actively in our fight against racism, facilitating any change necessary. In all of this, we need to pray that this moment in history will be a significant moment of lasting transformation and change.

 

 

 

 

 

Sharon Walls

VIDEO: Everything changed the morning 3-year-old Aliou’s blanket caught fire, enveloping him in flames. Without access to immediate medical care and treatment, his burn scars contracted, severely restricting the movement in his right arm. Aliou’s grandmother brought him to Mercy Ships hoping there was help to be found for her grandson.

Sharon Walls

Cire watches her five-year-old son Babacar run around the neighbourhood. For the first time in his short life, he can be a carefree little boy, playing with the other kids. As he lifts his shirt, to show his friends his tummy, Cire smiles. She has waited to see her baby boy run free in public for his entire life. Now that she no longer has to hide him from the world, she is also enjoying every moment.

When Cire was pregnant with Babacar, an abnormality in his development occurred. Her son was born with a mass of tissue connected to his sternum and dangling from his chest. The new mother was first confused and then ashamed.

People claimed she had birthed a monster. They blamed her for her son’s deformity. And worst of all, they rejected her son.

Then, when Babacar’s father died, they were left to fend for themselves. Cire did everything possible to keep her son’s condition a secret. She told Babacar never to show his stomach to anyone and dressed him in loose-fitting clothes to disguise the appearance of the growth. She kept family members from hugging him. She even planned to keep him out of school for fear that people would find out.

Cire tried to find healing for her son, but she only reached dead ends. It was a complicated condition that would require a complex surgery — one that was not available where they lived.

“It was difficult for me to eat and sleep,” Cire said. “I was constantly worrying about my son.”

Then Cire found out about a hospital ship providing free life-changing surgeries that would be arriving in Dakar, Senegal.

“The arrival of Mercy Ships was a blessing,” Cire said.

Little did she know that this blessing would extend beyond the gift of free surgery and that the miracle of healing would begin on the ship, even before Babacar received his operation.

“I remember Babacar’s mom commenting on how we saw and loved her son,” said Brittany Garrelts, one of Babacar’s nurses. “That love and acceptance began to heal her before we ever operated on her son; it wasn’t the same as how most people treated him. You could see her smile bloom the more time she spent with us.”

Although Babacar’s stay with Mercy Ships was a short one, it was nothing short of life-transforming.

‘There is no more fear; no more shame; no more having to hide.He is free — and so am I!’, Cire says